Eyewitness News looks back on the Cape Coast’s unenviable track record with shipping incidents.
Cape Authorities have records, dating back to the 17th century, which document the "Cape of Storms'" many shipwrecks. Between 1619 and May 2012, the Cape Coast has counted 161 shipping 'disasters' that claimed 3 381 lives. The 18th century was probably the most devastating; 28 incidents were recorded and just over two thousand lives were lost. The single biggest incident on record was on the 16th of June 1722 when the most vociferous storm yet in Cape Town wrecked 10 vessels heavily laden with cargo at the mouth of the Salt River. Some six hundred people died as a result.
With the passing years, the number of incidents tapered off and so too the number of fatalities. It seems quite certain that the advent of technology and the improvement in the construction of vessels were key contributing factors. However, while the loss of life has been mitigated over the years, the risk to the environment has increased.
The sinking of the bulk carrier "Treasure" in 2000 is probably the most devastating shipwreck in recent memory. The vessel, carrying 130 000 tonnes of iron ore, sank in 50m of water 6km from the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station on the 23d of June. The Cape's feared gale force north-westerly wind had a hand in the incident. Dealing with the resulting oil pollution leaking from the ship became a major exercise in the monitoring and clean-up operations by many different Agencies. Penguins and other sea life were also seriously affected. 20 000 penguins died around Dassen and Robben Islands and another 17 000 were saved in a massive rescue and relief operation in Cape Town. Penguins were eventually re-habilitated and returned to their breeding colonies on the Islands. These operations only ended on 31 August 2000.
A year later, on the 5th of September, the Ikan Tanda ran aground off Scarborough amid a gale force north-westerly wind. The crew had to be airlifted off the vessel. The Ikan Tanda caused some oil pollution, but she was re-floated two weeks later and towed to Cape Town Harbour for repairs.
It would be several years before the "Cape of Storms" would flex its muscle once more, claiming the now infamous Seli 1. The cargo carrier ran aground off Bloubergstrand on the 7th of September 2009 when its anchors were dislodged in a storm. The vessel caused some oil pollution and nearly four years later; attempts to remove the remaining pieces of wreckage from the landscape have yet to be completed.
The Mother City held her collective breath once more in May 2012, when a Japanese fishing vessel, the Eihatsu Maru ran aground at the popular Clifton Beach in heavy fog. Authorities were able to evacuate the crew, mitigate risk to the environment and re-float the vessel after a few attempts.
Oil has already escaped from the vessel and there are concerns about the impact on the marine environment as well as the Goukamma nature reserve.
History has shown that some vessels are simply no match for the "Cape of Storms" while others pose a hazard because they are simply not sea-worthy. For every salvage operation that is required, South African authorities go knocking on the doors of the vessel owners and their insurance companies, although recouping the salvage costs isn't always guaranteed. Sadly, it is virtually impossible to recoup the costs to the environment.